Jorge Glem is the Jimi Hendrix of the cuatro. He was the first to assemble a band of three cuatros, the C4 Trio, in which he refined his breathtaking technique and ability to play everything from folk tunes, to jazz of all sorts, to classical and grunge rock. More about that last style later. Thursday night at Lincoln Center, he reaffirmed his status as one of the most individualistically talented players in any style of music around the world.
Glem opened with Pez Volador (Flying Fish), backed by a rhythm section of Ricky Rodriguez on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. The result turned out much more lush than anyone could have expected from just a little four-string instrument no bigger than a mandolin. Using his fingertips rather than a pick, Glem strummed out the pensively dancing, vallenato-tinged melody, Rodriguez adding a purposefully waltzing solo. From terse, muted, flamencoish lines, Glem worked his way up to seemingly effortless volleys of tremolo-picking as the trio wound up the song.
They went straight into jazz with the enigmatic variations and shifting syncopation of the second number, Bily, over Hoenig’s flickering rimshots. Again, Glem took his time working upward to fiery flurries of chords, through a handful of lively, incisive conversational moments between the three musicians. The slinky Por Alguien Como Tu, by Venezuelan composer Carlos Morean, got a mean funk intro and some wildfire cuatro glissandos before the three swung the clave with all sorts of dynamic variations that once again veered into the postbop arena, and then hints of Romany swing. Hoenig’s salsa accents at the end drew chuckles from those who were paying attention.
Pianist Luis Perdomo joined the group for Merengue Today, choosing his spots and then spiraling through rivulets of deep blues. After that big crescendo, there was nowhere for the rest of the band to go other than to simply tap out the rhythm. The quartet then approached the tropical classic Estate with a spare, summery, pensiveness and echoes of Gershwin, Glem picking out an incisive solo over Perdomo’s quietly stygian backing.
After a funny interlude where Glem voiced pretty much every south-of-the-border rhythm on his axe, he kicked on his loop pedal and layered one rhythm after another, a one-man salsa orchestra doing a well-known 90s grunge hit that turned out vastly better than the original. His mashup of Bach’s Toccata in D with the Venezuelan folk song Pajarilllo and no wave jazz was just as irresistible, a sizzling display of strumming, glissandos and ghostly rivulets of harmonics.
Pras Criancas by Hamilton de Holanda gave the band the chance to stretch out with shapeshifting tropicalia; last on the bill was Pablo Milanes’ De Que Callada Manera. The next free concert in the mostly-weekly series at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St, is tomorrow night, Aug 23 at 7:30 PM with Congolese group the Soukous All Stars.